A high school movie with a difference, Stay Cool offers both a contemporary and nostalgic glimpse into those formative years when a best-selling author Henry (Mark Polish) is invited back to his old school to deliver a speech at the upcoming senior graduation.
Now in his mid-thirties, his latest book is based around his own school experiences decades back where he attempted (unsuccessfully) to fit in with the popular crowd and win the affections of the girl of his dreams. Hooking up with best friends from that era, a gay hairdresser (Sean Ashton) and tattooist (Josh Holloway), he decides to sample life back in the classroom and encouraged by his old principal (Chevy Chase), attends some lessons. He soon discovers that school is still as daunting a place as it ever was when he finds himself having to fend off the romantic advances of an overly-mature student (Hilary Duff) and overcome even more obstacles to win over the heart of his once unattainable sweetheart (Winona Ryder)
Featuring a supporting cast comprised almost entirely of familiar 80’s faces (alongside the aforementioned trio of Chase, Ashton and Ryder, actors from the likes of ET, Family Ties, Blade Runner, Pretty in Pink and Beverly Hills 90210 also crop up) from the outset Stay Cool looks like it has the potential to be entertaining and involving delve into the past, but ultimately, it falls short of this.
The film is actually the unlikely product of cult filmmaker brothers, Mark and Michael Polish (directing under the pseudonym of Ted Smith here). The two won critical acclaim a number of years back with quirky and distinctive fables like Twin Falls Idaho and Northfolk. This film represents a marked change of pace and style for the two and therein lies its biggest problem. It can’t quite decide if it wants to be a gently humorous and (darkly) bittersweet look at the high school experience, or a broader, throwaway comedy.
On the whole, the cast do well and everyone is nicely restrained (Ashton even manages to dial it down despite being kitted out for the majority of the film in a garish yellow kimono) but it rarely comes to life and any genuinely funny moments are few and far between. For his part, Mark Polish (also who wrote the script) is an appealing and refreshingly unshowy lead actor, but the grossly misleading promotional DVD artwork would suggests otherwise, and lack of faith in the film (and it’s main star) by the distributer means it’s being marketed as some kind of anodyne Hilary Duff vehicle (Polish’s name isn’t even included on the cover!).
It’s also nice to see Winona Ryder back in a fairly substantial role, and along with Polish, she’s able to tap into the more engaging melancholic aspects hinted at in the script, as the ex-prom queen who is now in an unhappy place and is at first unaware of the instrumental part she’s played in Henry’s success as a writer.
Managing to remain fairly watchable (thanks mainly to its diverse cast) Stay Cool may be enough to please those in the mood for an undemanding 90 minutes of entertainment, but there are plenty of other films available which tackle similar themes, in a deeper and more emotionally enriching way.